New Study Cites Benefits of Increased CO2

Published February 1, 1998

Healthier forests and richer harvests are just two of the things people can look forward to if worldwide levels of the notorious “pollutant” carbon dioxide (CO2) continue to rise, notes a study recently released by the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

Said by proponents of global warming theory to be responsible for environmental disasters from floods and droughts to melting ice caps and rising sea levels, CO2 is in fact a substance absolutely necessary for human survival.

“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.” writes NCPA environmental policy analyst Sterling Burnett, author of “Who’s Afraid of CO2.” “It is tasteless, odorless, nontoxic to humans at concentrations up to 13 times present levels, and essential to life.” Burnett reminds us that plants breathe CO2, and as they grow and reproduce they exhale oxygen, making the Earth habitable for humans.

As for any dire consequences that might result from the predicted increase in CO2 levels in the decades to come, Burnett dismisses such fashionable fear-mongering. “Instead of a disaster,” he writes, “the expected doubling of CO2 due to human activities will produce a number of benefits over the next century.”

According to Burnett, nearly 800 scientific studies conducted worldwide suggest that plant productivity in a CO2-enhanced world would improve on average 32 percent for cereal grains, legumes, corn, potatoes, lettuce, and many other crops. Research conducted by the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory has concluded that orange trees would produce 10 times as many oranges in the first two years of production.

A New England study cited by Burnett found that ten tree species showed improved growth rates averaging 24 percent between 1950 and 1980, a period during which CO2 levels were rising. Forests will benefit greatly from a CO2-rich environment: trees will put on more mass, and thus relatively fewer of them will have to be cut to meeting our demand for lumber. Fragmented forests and their surroundings will regenerate–as many already have in Europe and the Eastern United States.

Moreover, notes Burnett, many scientists contend that food scarcity is a key factor limiting the populations of animal species other than humans (who can modify their environment to produce sufficient food). “Therefore,” Burnett writes, “as plants increase in size and number, so should animals–more herbivores due to increased vegetation, and more omnivores and carnivores due to increased herbivore populations.”

Federal regulations governing safety in underground mines (where the relative levels of CO2 vis-a-vis oxygen are of considerable importance) imply that atmospheric CO2 would have to rise to some 5000 parts per million before it posed a direct threat to human health. “Since no scientist predicts a rise of this magnitude in the next century, the anticipated rise in CO2 levels should be viewed as beneficial,” Burnett concludes.